The importance of cultivating cultural awareness at work

Group of Diverse Business People Discussing About World Issues

Becoming culturally aware, however, requires understanding what “culture” means.

“’Culture’ is very dynamic and complex,” says Dr. Patty Goodman, cross-cultural communication faculty lead for Northeastern’s Master of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication program. “It has to come from the individual perspective and go all the way through to the macro perspective.”

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We are building a global university system!

Northeastern flipped the script on its annual State of the University celebration, presenting an engaging new format in which President Joseph E. Aoun and other university leaders and students delivered remarks from locations across the country and abroad while underscoring Northeastern’s foundational strengths: global, diverse, innovative, entrepreneurial, and experiential.

Continue reading “We are building a global university system!”

Alumnus voices the importance of empathy

Kicking off the first stage of my professional career clashes with mixed feelings that emerged with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in my hometown, Puerto Rico. Among all the anxiety that the current humanitarian crisis has unfolded, I’ve learned how invaluable the power of empathy can be. Caring for others is a human thing, regardless of whether you’re American or not.

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Image Source: Quartz – Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria September 2017

 

 

As an eager storyteller, I also realized how impactful it can be to listen to stories from people living the disaster in depth. A crisis shouldn’t be addressed, it should be narrated. Stories help us to draw what’s invisible. In this particular case, sharing what the crisis’ victims have to say is the key for them to engage with the rest of the world. It also justifies the imperatives of the essential aid they need. In addition, the narrative unveils the lessons we all can gain from this crisis to turn them into our legacy.

Image Source: http://www.mediate.com/articles/ThompsonJ11.cfm

Puerto Ricans are characterized by our willingness to always extend our hand to others. Today, my fellow citizens from la “Isla del Encanto” (as we call it) or the land of “Despacito” (as others might know it as well) are now the ones in need. We’ll be grateful to get any form of support – but moreover, we’d be happy to have you listen to any story we have to tell.

Posted by Carlos Colon Raldiris, CPS ’17

Networking: The cross-cultural communication side

This seems to be the ‘Era of Networking.’ Whether the purpose is job hunting, recruiting, or exploring shared interests, networking is often the key to to finding a good connection. Over the past couple of years, I have been placing more focus on my network. Not just adding names, but developing relationships with those whom I add to my network. With the launching of our new Cross-Cultural Communication concentration and graduate certificate, I have also become more aware of the influence cross-cultural communication has in networking.

In a previous posting, I noted the importance of participating in conferences for self-development and networking. Upon reflection, I would like to also share how employing cross-cultural communication can generate amazing networking opportunities. First, what do I mean by the term ‘cross-cultural communication’? Being open to conversations with people who might be different from oneself, and being genuinely curious about other’s cultures. The following three examples highlight the benefits of building a global network.

In 2014, while I was participating at the International Transformational Learning Conference at Columbia University, there was a partnering activity during the opening session. I happened to be sitting in the back row with one other person, whom I’ll refer to as KL. Despite our cultural differences, we had a wonderful conversation about our current career and research paths. Since KL lives in Hong Kong, and I reside in Greater Boston, we didn’t think our paths would cross, but we decided to stay in touch anyway. As it turned out, I had the opportunity to teach in a Northeastern program in Vietnam in 2015 and was able to visit KL in Hong Kong. The outcome of our cross-cultural networking was an intergenerational research project in collaboration with a business owner in Vietnam — a project we jointly presented at the International Transformational Learning Conference in 2016.

This pattern repeated itself at a conference last year. While attending the June 2016 International Communication Association in Japan, I engaged in conversation with another attendee, ABR, who happened to be sitting alone during a lunch break. I learned that ABR was working on an academic integrity project with her university in Australia — a topic I’m also interested in. As newcomers to Japan, we enjoyed investigating the local sights and discussing shared research interests. As fate would have it, I visited Australia in September and ended up connecting with ABR in her hometown. As a result, we’re considering several areas for future collaboration.

Over time, I’ve become more intentional in the networking process. For example, while participating in a June 2017 Global Studies Conference in Singapore, I listened to a global mobility presentation by MC. After her presentation, I introduced myself and found that we had much in common. When I mentioned that I’d be traveling to India in August, MC invited me to be a guest lecturer at her university while visiting her in Jodhpur. Another connection, another cross-cultural relationship, another opportunity to collaborate.

In closing, I recognize that my personality is open to adventure. Yet, I will disclose that I am an introvert by nature and pseudo-extrovert by practice.  Hence, I would suggest that the examples I provided are more about an interest in communicating with others through a cross-cultural lens, rather than a function of personality. The strategy I employed was one being open to sharing with people from very different cultural backgrounds. There can be a risk in this kind of networking; not all conversations will end up with a strong connection. But remember the old adage: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Posted by Patty Goodman, Ed.D., Faculty

 

Husky Travels to China

In June, I flew to China with Northeastern University’s mascot, the Husky, to represent our program at the Beijing Northeastern University (NU) Alumni Community Speaker Event. I presented on my global citizenship research and shared the contributing cultural artifact, the Traveling Global Citizenship Canvas.  This canvas is approximately 40 feet in length covered front and back with NU student and alumni descriptions about the values of global citizenship.   With Husky by my side, we sought to absorb some local culture and gain a broader perspective on our alumnus home in Beijing and Chengdu, China.

My first impression of Beijing was the dichotomy of the space. The roads seemed so wide, yet the traffic was so heavy. However, an efficient public transportation system led into the heart of the city, Tiananmen Square. Immediately to the right when rising from the underground system, we found a boulevard filled with shops and restaurants. The magnificent city gates set the tone for grandeur and Asian antiquity. Husky wasn’t in Boston anymore. We entered Tiananmen Square through a security check point, and were surprised by the vastness of the square. The China National Museum sat strikingly on one side of the square opposite government buildings and the 14th century Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, seemingly filled the opposite end of the square. Within this square, there was a variety of architectural designs from across the ages.

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Despite the heat, the gorgeous flowers and landscape tricked the mind to continue onward to discover more. Husky and I forged toward the Forbidden City, the imperial palace for the Ming and Qing Dynasties until 1911. No matter the day, thousands of people wait in line to visit it. One truly needs days to see the over 8,000 rooms in the Forbidden City, but we only had time for a glimpse of the guard quarters near the entrance.  As I reflect, I can only imagine how our alumni must have felt moving to Boston for their educational pursuits; Boston is a very compact city compared to this spacious city.

After appreciating Beijing’s ancient splendor, it was time for Husky and me to talk with the young Northeastern University alumni.

Northeastern University Beijing Alumni Community

These alumni were forming a new, local community with graduates from across Northeastern University.  We shared ideas about the concept of global citizenship and how we might consider ourselves as developing layers of cultures in the midst of our global society.  Many alumni voiced how they grew to love the culture in Boston. Although they may have experienced some challenges with culture shock, they valued learning about how to live in America.

Husky and I headed on another adventure in China to visit our own alumni and my past student, Mingming Xu ’17. Mingming was living in Chengdu in the Sichuan Province, a region noted for pandas and spicy hot pot food. Husky and I experienced wonderful hospitality, amazing food, and fascinating cultural sights. Click on the video link to share some of our marvelous adventures.

Mingming was excited about her new role in a start-up and contributed her confidence and professional knowledge for the role to completing her MS COC.

Even though it was just a glimpse of China, traveling outside of our Western city increased my understanding of my students and their Eastern metropolis. Although Husky lightheartedly offered an amusing perspective on my experience, I was most grateful for the generosity I received from our alumni.  From a global citizenship view, I was impressed with how our alumni were able to recognize the cultural differences between the East and West, yet value those differences and make a home in both cities.

Posted by Patty Goodman, Ed.D., Faculty

Intercultural communication – upfront and personal

I’ve had the good fortune to travel this year to Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand relating to my research and teaching roles. In the process, I gained some insights that I would like to share in the following anecdotes. These musings are meant to be opportunities for pause and reflection. Have you had similar experiences? Comments and open discussion are welcome.

It all began when I let go

After the closing ceremony of the International Communication Association Conference in Fukuoka, Japan, I decided to venture out of the city to find the Nanzoin Temple, famous for its 41 meter long reclining Buddha statue.

I was a bit apprehensive about taking the subway to the regional train station since few of the locals spoke English. Once I showed the picture of my destination from my phone to the woman behind the ticket window, I had my round-trip ticket to Kidonanzoin-Mae. Excited to figure out the right train track and which station to get off, I had my confidence back.

As I stepped off the train with no one in sight, the little voice in my head said, “what now!” I turned to my left and noticed a woman looking at a map on her phone. “Would you happen to be heading to the Nanzoin Temple?,” I asked. Her response in English was, “Yes, want to find it together?” Esther was on holiday from her work in Australia and knew a bit more Japanese than I did.

Even so, we ended up getting lost, coming across many cultural treasures along the way. Eventually, we found the Nanzoin Temple despite missing signs.

Buddha

The entire episode was a great learning moment: Just ask and go with it! Could the essence of intercultural communication be accepting your current circumstances and being agile with your surroundings?

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Tokyo Efficiency

There were boundless opportunities to test my ability to employ intercultural communication techniques in Tokyo. Through discussions with Japanese friends, I was prepared for the basic cultural customs of an indirect communication style, distance in personal space, and emphasis on punctuality.

The Japanese also value efficiency, as I realized when scanning a map of the Tokyo train system. Transit map of Tokyo

As the photo shows, the public transportation authorities created one map showing all the routes. From the perspective of an international traveler, I admit to being completely intimidated by this map. I recall wise words offered to me, “Being efficient might not always be the best.” Those words rang true for me in this situation. As a visitor to the city, I would have been better served with a different map displaying options for traveling in specific directions. Thank goodness people were helpful when I asked questions, and asked questions, and asked questions. Get the picture. From a communication perspective, one size (of map) did not fit all!

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Recognizing the big picture

During an early morning in Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, I observed several vignettes, snapshots of daily life, that seemed so familiar. A woman held a small bicycle while a little girl climbed onto the seat. With one push, the little girl pedaled and was off. With a smile, the woman jogged beside the bike and redirected the handle bars as needed. Another woman was cradling a baby in her arms and balancing a bottle. There are some security guards resting on a bench; their long night patrolling the park, I imagined,  is coming to a close. Further along, a group of mature women were exercising to music with a special percussion instruments.

Ho Chi Minh City

I could have been at Danehy Park in Cambridge, the English Garden in Munich, Herastrau Park in Bucharest, or Parque Centro America Quetzaltenango in Guatemala, seeing very similar vignettes.
A realization hit me that we all belong to one culture — the culture of humanity. When I look for differences in cultures, I can certainly find them. There is value in seeking to understand these differences. Yet, when I seek similarities, I can find those too.  Could the best means of mastering intercultural communication be finding a balance between the two?

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Maintaining cultural history

I often wonder, as we become more global, how cultures will maintain their heritage. Will stories start to blend or histories become blurred?

In Ho Chi Minh City, I witnessed just the opposite. Here, the Vietnamese authorities storyboards in Vietnamhave enshrined the legacy of Ho Chi Minh in very visual ways. In Ho Chi Minh Square, there are permanent storyboards to commemorate his life and his relationship with city.

While walking around the square, which is the hub of the city and crowded with people, one can see pictures of the revolutionary struggle and read about Ho Chi Minh’s rise as a leader, as well as the government’s role in providing services to the people and in nurturing cultural customs.

When heading to the main center of the town, more storyboards are found along the side of government buildings. This series shares more recent events and celebrations hosted by the government and the community. There is a clear sense that the emphasis is on the collective unity and shared success of the Vietnamese culture.

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Is this the kind of very public symbolism that will counteract the blurring of cultural heritages? Has anyone seen similar displays? Been to Havana?

 

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The Power of a Sign

While in Bangkok, Thailand, I experienced a real eye opener. I had spent the day with a local guide learning about Thai history and religious practices. It had been a fascinating day, one with many moments of awe and wonder. Honestly, it wasn’t until I saw this sign that I realized I had been disrespecting what I thought was a beautiful symbol of peace.

Buddha poster

I am not a practicing Buddhist and mean no disrespect to those worshiping Buddha. I appreciated what this sign communicated. I had a learning moment that intercultural communication is not always seeking to understand, but recognizing when you have misunderstood. Have you experienced such an eye opener?

 

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Intercultural Communication vs Crisis Communication

In our internet-driven society, cyber hacking is a common occurrence.  From an intercultural communication perspective, should corporations take into account different communication styles when communicating a case of cyber hacking? One example might be using Hofstede’s National Cultural Dimensions to guide wording and emphasis to tailor messages to specific audiences. Or is one message conveying clear and timely information about the hacking incident, along with sincere regret effective for all audiences?

Taking a realistic business perspective, sensitive customer data is vulnerable when exposed. A crisis management plan that takes into account clear and direct information, in a timely manner with sincere regret might be the most effective from a customer’s perspective. I received this message from Vietnam Airlines within 24 hours of the identified incident.

Hacking message

I would have liked to also know what the airline is doing to prevent future hacking. I did appreciate the quick notification. How would you rate this communication?

Posted by Patty Goodman, Ed.D., Faculty